Social and Economic Linkages between Cobourg's Canadian and U.S. Residents - As the years passed, members of northern U.S. families who summered in Cobourg increasingly married colony members hailing from the southern United States.
As the years passed, members of northern U.S. families who summered in Cobourg increasingly married colony members hailing from the southern United States. Furthermore, both U.S. contingents of the summer colony also frequently married into prominent Cobourg families. The familial bonds among these groups were furthered strengthened over time as additional marriages took place each summer. Moreover, these nuptials became the social highlights of the colony's summer season as guest lists featured a veritable who's who of North America's rich and powerful. Not surprisingly, the guests frequently bestowed valuable gifts made of silver, gold, and/or diamonds upon the newlyweds. Arguably, the colony's largest and most notable wedding was the 1902 marriage of Vivian May Sartoris, granddaughter of Ulysses S. Grant to Frederick Roosevelt Scovel, a cousin of Teddy Roosevelt.
Together the Canadians and Americans "... established a social elite that was almost Bostonian in its exclusiveness." Beyond intermarriage, Cobourg's elite jointly engaged in business ventures (e.g., railroads, mines) and recreational pastimes (e.g., the Cobourg Golf Club, yachting, and horse racing). They also worked together to build and improve Cobourg's infrastructure including the town's hospital, roads, and water system.
From the 1880's until the outbreak of World War I, Cobourg's summer colony remained largely unaffected and/or unconcerned by events beyond its economic, geographic, and social realm. However, World War I and its aftermath shattered the colony's gentile lifestyle and ultimately led to its demise. [See Historical Facts 1878; Cobourg for more Ed]
During World War I, a significant percentage of Cobourg's male population was called for military service in Europe. Meanwhile, on the homefront, the citizenry contended with labor shortages, rationing, the shifting of industries from domestic to military production, and more. These events drastically altered the day to day lives of Cobourg's permanent and seasonal residents. A subdued and somber atmosphere replaced the fun and frivolity of bygone summers. Even after the cessation of hostilities in 1918, the colony never again regained its pre-War magnificence or popularity.
The years following World War I marked the twilight of Cobourg's summer colony. Interestingly, both the colony's growth and decline are attributable to a similar set of factors - economics, transportation, and public interests. With respect to economics, the business world was becoming increasingly more competitive. Consequently, company executives could no longer afford to take multiple month vacations. In addition, the imposition of various taxes in the United States and Canada substantially raised the maintenance costs for large homes in both countries. Many individuals were unwilling or unable to shoulder the new tax burdens and therefore opted to sell their summer residences.
The second major contributing factor to the colony's decline involved transportation. Specifically, the rapid development and adoption of new modes of transportation (e.g., automobiles, airplanes) and the corresponding elimination of older transportation modes (e.g., car ferries, passenger trains). Automobiles and airplanes afforded Americans and Canadians access to new and more distant destinations which could be reached within a relatively short period of time. Moreover, an individual no longer even really needed to leave his/her domicile to escape the summer heat thanks to the invention of the air conditioner. Finally, changes in public tastes and preferences regarding leisure activities also occurred during this period.
In the early 1920's, the Arlington Hotel permanently ceased operations and over the course of the ensuing decade, the colony's size decreased drastically. Many American families who owned summer homes during the colony's heyday continued to spend their summers in Cobourg albeit the large-scale social events of years past no longer took place. However, it was the Great Depression of the 1930's that brought about the colony's final demise. During this period, many of the colony's "old" industrial families lost much or all of their accumulated wealth. Consequently, they were forced to sell or abandon their Cobourg summer homes. In addition, deaths of family members within the remaining summer colony also helped to hasten its demise. American excursionists continued to visit Cobourg for a number of summers following the exodus of wealthy Americans from Cobourg. Nevertheless, the cessation of the Ontario car ferries in the early 1950's and related events marked the end of Cobourg as an excursion destination as well.
Today, relatively few summer homes and other reminders of Cobourg's summer colony remain. Despite this fact, the unique role Cobourg played in the re-establishment of social and economic ties among northern and southern U.S. families in the years following the Civil War cannot be diminished. Moreover, the bonds established between Cobourg's permanent Canadian residents and its seasonal counterparts are also of historical import. Taken together, Cobourg's summer colony, its populace, and its economic and social activities provide an enduring historical legacy for both Canada and the United States.
In Four Parts
- The Establishment of the American Summer Colony - part 1
- The Marketing of Cobourg as a Summer Destination - part 2
- Cobourg's Summer Visitors - part 3
- Social and Economic Linkages between Cobourg's Canadian and U.S. Residents - part 4 - this page
[Also - Summary, point form version]
Based on a presentation by: Marsha Ann Tate, ABD
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania USA 16802
As presented to Cobourg Historical Society